Sunday, April 12, 2015

Your Work Matters, AKA Dancing Pumpkin

Greetings, all. 

I know it's not a usual comic post today, but you will be rewarded for sticking with me today. I hope you like stories.

Yesterday was Rock the Parkway (RtP), a Kansas City 5K/Half-Marathon race day. It's a race I've run every year the past 4 years -- 2 5Ks, 2 Half-s. I think. I'm losing track of everything. I actually wrote a post about training and race day after last year's RtP.

I do a lot of my training over the winter to get ready for this race. This year I didn't. I'm struggling with feeling fat and terrible and lazy for giving up on it. Fine. Instead, I signed up for Trolley Run, a 4-mile race the end of April, which takes significantly less training, so I decided to do something fun for RtP.

You probably know this about me by now, but I inherited a ridiculous felt jack-o-lantern costume when my BFFs moved to Boston many years ago. We usually only see Pumpkin around Halloween.

That was just me wasting his true potential, though.

Yesterday morning, my beautiful husband and I hopped on our bikes, rode to the race, and just...started cheering.

If you've never run a race before, there's a lot of work involved to get ready and do it well. 

Most basic half-marathon training plans are structured around 12 weeks of work. Just for the body exercise part. You are simultaneously learning how to properly fuel (eat) and hydrate and rest and stretch and breathe and strengthen your mind/body endurance. 

You never have to RUN the whole time on race day, but you'll feel like you have to, and you'll probably push yourself too hard and take everything way too seriously when race time finally comes. 

It's also terribly lonely. It's just you and your steps and your breathing and your mind for hours of training and hours on race day. 

My goal for the day was to make sure people who needed it knew that someone cared about the work they did to get here, and that someone cares that they finish. I mean, that's what spectators do. You know, the "Worst Parade Ever" signs, etc. I wasn't there to watch a specific friend this year, though. I just watched for the people who needed me.

We were able to catch most of the runners around their 2nd mile. We parked in one spot until the very last police car came by and said everyone was out. Then we crossed the parkway and adjusted to the turnaround point where the 5K runners and the Half-ers would be coming down the last stretch of their run.

"Look at your training paying off today!" I cheered. "Everyone is still sleeping and you are finishing a half-marathon!"

"Thank you, Pumpkin!" they'd say. "You're amazing!"

"No. YOU are amazing," I'd reply. "I'll see you when you get back, OK?"

"It's okay that you are walking now," I would sometimes explain, "but as soon as you get around that next corner, jog and smile for the cameras so it will look like you were running the whole time, okay? Just finish strong; that's all that matters."

"Okay, Pumpkin."

After the race was over, people shouted hellos at me and said they were so happy to see me on the course. "Hey, you said you'd keep dancing until I finished!" one woman remembered.

"You finished! I'm so proud of you!" I'd tell each person. Some would stand around with me, exhausted and telling me how hard it was, or just that it was nice to see a smiling face. Some stopped for pictures. Sure, why not?

I was happy to just lose myself in this ridiculous jack-o-lantern. What I looked like didn't matter. Just getting through that day mattered. Empathy is what the runners need from their spectators sometimes, too. Not just a proud mom, not an elite runner who finished way ahead of them, not just a cardboard sign, but just a proud coach dressed like a giant fucking smiling pumpkin.

And we made it!

-C McG

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